The Bible tells us that God promised Noah, after The Great Flood, never to destroy the Earth again with water. God lied. I learned this the hard way when Hurricane Dennis took half of my house in July of 2005, and I do not live in a flood zone. I live, in fact, in a small New Jersey town: one of six battered by this storm and ignored by the United States government which, roughly one month later, left the victims of Hurricane Katrina to fend for themselves. Dumping eight inches of water in ten minutes and another two inches over the next several hours, Dennis flooded my basement and the first floor of my home. I could write a book about the most horrific chapter of my life, but for the sake of getting my point across quickly, I urge everyone reading this to buy flood insurance.
Look closely at the policy against which you pay premiums as either a homeowner or a renter (yes, renters can and should purchase flood insurance). Understand that flood insurance is not storm insurance. Storm coverage protects you if, for instance, a tree in your backyard crashes into your house and rainwater enters through the rift. Floodwater is considered “standing water,” meaning, rainwater that falls upon and is not absorbed adequately by the ground and your municipal sewerage system. I learned this distinction too late; not even an attorney specializing in these types of cases gave me a glimmer of hope in the wake of Dennis the Menace.
Approximately $400 a year in flood insurance would have paid for the $60,000 worth of damage that I incurred to replace everything in the basement, including part of the A/C unit, the furnace, and the washer and drier, as well as everything on my first floor: furniture, walls, floors, doors, window treatments, the whole nine yards.
And then there were the very real health risks. Neither the Fire Department nor a pricey water removal service deigned to pump the last three inches of water out of my basement, leaving my husband to descend into a watery inferno to trip the circuit breakers. En route he quipped, “I hope to see you again!” Gaping holes where walls once stood posed a very real hazard for my two beloved cats. Without our neurosis and vigilance, my kitties would have been fodder for the sump pump that sucked water off my property for the better part of a week. And we were one of the lucky families, as we learned at a town meeting steered by a very nervous figurehead FEMA representative.
Present at that meeting was an older couple that had, in June of ’05, finally paid off the mortgage on their lovely house sitting atop a hill. Dennis struck one month later. Because the house was situated on a knoll, the storm water ran downhill; there wasn’t a drop of standing water in the basement or anywhere else in the house. But the ground had become so soaked that the house shifted, cracking one of the foundation walls irreparably. Declaring the house unsafe, the township condemned it. Flitting between hotels and the houses of relatives, this couple had lost everything. Like us, they received not a penny in aide from Washington, despite the pleas and properly followed protocols of our local politicians, including Senators.
Our government essentially deemed the $3 million in communal damage within three towns inconsequential. Hell, they deemed decent taxpayers whose lives had been turned upside down inconsequential. Instead, Washington continued to do what it does it best: fund yet another war and pay reparations to the country in which it is waged. A few short weeks after my home was devastated, the power brokers turned a blind eye upon the poor souls of New Orleans, as Katrina ravaged that city. If this happened to me here in the good ol’ Garden State, it can happen to you. If you are not a blood sucking corporate capo, don’t expect a bailout from the government if a hurricane or tornado should slam your home. It’s up to you to protect yourself.
If your current carrier won’t write you a policy for flood insurance, fire ‘em and find one that will. If you own your home, get a rider for the contents of your house as well as the actual structure. If you rent, buy a policy to protect the contents of your domicile; the owner of the property should get coverage for the structure in which you live. “They” say that money doesn’t buy peace of mind. Like God, “they” lie, at least, in cases of flood insurance. Four hundred bucks in flood coverage, give or take a bit depending upon your personal circumstances, will help you sleep a bit more soundly at night.
Oh, P.S. Should you suffer a flood after buying flood insurance and get the runaround from your tight-fisted insurance carrier, call FEMA’s Flood Division (there is one in New York City). Talk about damage control, FEMA claims that it will assist you in getting the money owed to you.